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Kids have always made in my library.
We encouraged digital and visual and dramatic and rhetorical creativity before, during, and after school. But for a while, I’ve questioned the value of using already heavily used real estate to randomly carve out space for a 3D printer, electronics stations and sewing machines. I had my doubts about the makerspace movement in school libraries.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat with Amos Blanton, project manager of the Scratch online community, and a member of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab. On his profile Amos notes: I design and sustain creative learning environments for people with agency.
Amos makes the case for makerspaces as powerful, authentic, relevant learning experiences, and for when and why library may be the very right space to create a makerspace.
Here’s the video of our chat and a few of key points to consider before adopting a maker culture for libraries
Amos’ key points:
A Makerspace is not a one-size-fits-all kind of space. There are all kinds of idiosyncratic ways to have a Makerspace, different ways to dial into the local culture. In creating a new Makerspace, people should ask: What tools are already being used in the community? What are teachers already doing? What is already there, and how can we add to and augment it?
Making is more powerful when driven by the interest of the learner. Makerspaces in schools should connect to student’s authentic interests, or the experiences children have had. When that connection is made, the experience will have more meaning and power, and will be more likely to attract student attention and engage their efforts. If the agenda comes from outside, that could be problematic. I want people to bring their own agendas and be supported. That’s a culture that already exists in libraries
What is very important and maybe not supported by many school curricula is people bringing into the world their own projects and ideas. When students have to spend all their time fulfilling an external agenda, they don’t have a chance to learn how to create their own agenda. Teaching kids only what adults think they need to know can take up all the time kids need to explore what it is that they care about.
Freedom to choose changes the way students invest in a project. We need to connect learners to their interests, to give them the freedom to choose what to do and learn. Of course there is a minimum we need to cover in schools — everyone needs to be able to read and write. But in the process of following their own interests, they’re going to develop a lot of other skills. They’ll develop their writing skills in service of documenting or discovering more about something that they love, not just in service of an assignment that someone else told them that they had to do. That distinction is a key aspect of what makes a powerful learning experiences. They’re connected to their interests.
School does some things well, but what I love about the library is that when I enter, I set the agenda. I am going there because there is something that I want to know based on interests or what’s going on in my life or all sorts of local idiosyncratic contexts…. I am excited about Making in schools — it can be really great. But if the agenda for what needs to be Made is coming from outside the Maker, then that could be problematic. What seems to be a great fit with libraries and interest driven learning is that the person who comes to the library sets the agenda. I want them to be supported in that and that’s a culture that already exists in libraries. So Making is a perfect fit into an already existing library culture.
Filed under: makerspaces
About Joyce Valenza
Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza
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